Christianity 201

January 25, 2019

Looking for Disciples Who Look Like Us

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Several times at our sister blog we’ve linked to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word, but we’ve never included his writing here. Today we’re offering you a sample. As usual, send some link love to our featured writers by clicking the title and reading each article at its point of origin.

Collecting vs. Making Disciples

by Joel A. Hess

I often forget a little detail in our Lord’s command to His church in Matthew 28. He says, “Go and make disciples…” Every time I read and reread this almost cliché passage, I am reminded that Jesus tells us He is going to “make” disciples. It will be something done to people. No one will be waiting at the church door knocking to come in. 

“Making disciples” implies that no one is going to “come to the cross,” “come to their senses,” or “sign up on the sign-up sheet” hoping to be selected. No one came to the birth of our Lord except those called by God. No one came to the empty tomb except those expecting to find a dead body. Jesus made every disciple we read about in the New Testament, from Mary and Joseph to Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene.

He did this by the power of His Word and words. Every single person who has come to faith in Christ was once stone-cold dead—worse, an enemy of God. As Jesus says in John 8, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus finds us. We don’t find Him. So He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He is the “Good” Shepherd because He is the Shepherd David talks about in Psalm 23. But He is also really good at being a Shepherd! Just as God found Adam and Eve and made them into believers of His grace, so He finds lost, scared, dying people and does the same. He does this through His church, that is, through other believers in Christ.

While I give lip service to this directive of Jesus, I often times find myself collecting disciples instead. I think many of us pastors and fellow disciples do the same. It’s our default disposition. We look for people who look like us, believe like us, have the same political views as us, talk like us, and live lives like us. Ironically, it has been my experience that those people are the hardest to convert.

Social media probably hasn’t helped us, and neither has the increasing habit of putting our whole lives into political party categories. By doing so, we put a barrier up before we can even start to share the good news of Christ!

I get it. If we only live by sight and not by faith, it certainly seems impossible that a person bragging about their atheism, their alternative lifestyle, and even their hatred of Christianity would ever be a disciple of Christ. But that is what we all were! We were all made disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word. No one began with a disposition that was neutral, let alone favorable toward believing in God.

How quickly we are tempted to write people off! How quickly we are tempted to not believe the power of the God’s Word, that is, the Good News, that God does not hold our sins against us but has placed them upon His Son!

The church is not a collection of like-minded people, but a creation of God’s, united in their being found, rescued, and gently made (and being made) into hope-filled, peace-filled believers of Jesus.

May God open my eyes to see my neighbor and my enemy as Jesus sees them: as future disciples.

 

February 2, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Three

In Part One, we looked at the similarity between some North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh.  In Part Two we looked at the three categories of our financial blessing and how we’re commanded to allocate these. However, we stopped short of fully fleshing out the third category.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word. (Some sections in parenthesis today are my additions.)

• • • by André Turcotte

Some of the help we’re able to give will come from this third category…

Margins

Leviticus 23:22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

(This should remind you of another passage, the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2.)

This is repeated in scripture:

Deuteronomy 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Leviticus 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

(This of course bears on the broader topic of margin. Is there enough in your life generally? There should be some discretionary spending money in your budget.)

The problem is that instead of living with some margin or leftover, many of us are living financially beyond our means. (This would definitely include those who make only the minimum monthly payment on their charge cards, or whose cards are already maxed-out.)

In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further:

Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.

Remember the image of a wheat field from yesterday? Perhaps the most compelling argument for what this means is found in

The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

2 Cor. 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

All through scripture, God’s rewards generous, cheerful giving; again, not done out of compulsion or duty but joy.

But the natural human response is to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’

God’s blessing

8 (NLT) And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity [NIV: righteousness] in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

(Note: This should not be interpreted as what is currently called ‘prosperity doctrine.’)

Though our motive should be giving joyfullly to the Lord, God promises to supply, multiply and reward those who are His generous stewards. God multiplies our giving for many purposes.

Multiple effect

12 (NIV) This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 

Generosity with our money in this instance helps the refugees, shows the unity of the Body of Christ, bears witness to Christ, honors God, and increases our faith in Christ.

 

February 1, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Two

Yesterday we looked at the similarity between North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh. (If you have sensitivities toward the Syrian situation, please note that not all Christians feel this way; we’d like to think it’s just a minority, but the challenge of opening our communities is stretching us and steepening our learning curve!)

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this one?

On one extreme end, some could say it means giving all we have to those in need, but practically that would just leave us in that same place (and in some cases diminish our ability to help when future causes arise.)

On the other extreme end, some would just take money they are currently giving to “A” and simply redirect it to “B.”

Obviously we need a new perspective: What it means is realizing that all we have is given to us from the Lord and stewarding all of it for Kingdom purposes is our duty.

To repeat, all in does not mean giving every last cent to others, but rather stewarding every last cent in a way that makes room for the needs of others.

So what do we mean by stewarding everything we have?

‘Everything we have’ can be categorized in 3 ways: First fruits, Middle fruits and margin/leftovers.

Picture in your mind a vast field of wheat. Today not many of us are farmers, so we don’t practice our giving in terms of grain or sheep, but picture a wheat field divided into the following categories:

First fruits

Several times God calls his people to give the first fruits to him — this is constant even at times there were other needs around them.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

This is important: Note that taking the tithe or first fruits and redirecting them to the needy is a violation of God’s directive.

Many reading this will say, what about people in need right here in the United States or Canada? It would be an epic fail on the part of God’s people if we

  • redirected what would normally be our tithes to engage this need, or
  • stopped giving to other local or regional projects to help those who will arrive (or, the current ‘flavor of the month’ charity; the one making the headlines).

On the other hand, saying that we can’t do anything to help those in need because we are ‘tapped out’ or because we have given all our charity money to God is not acceptable either.

This reminds us of the passage where Jesus deals with what were called the Corban rules (which we can cover here as a separate study sometime*) described in Mark 7:

10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

Rather, our giving should come out of our middle fruits and out of our margins.

Middle fruits

This money is a blessing. It’s the fund that most of us live on. Our family operating budget after we’ve first taken care of giving first fruits to God’s work.

The principle here is to enjoy and wisely use God’s blessings.

Ecc. 5:19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.

Margins

This is a scriptural principle that I haven’t heard as much teaching on but a principle that is clearly taught in scripture. It’s really the meat of the sermon that attracted me to sharing these notes with you.

But for that one, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow!


* In September, 2015, Clarke Dixon looked at an aspect of the Corban laws in this article:  The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus.

 

January 31, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part One

For a few days, I want to share some material that was presented as a sermon by my home church pastor as part of a series that eight area pastors are doing in a 4-week rotation as part of our faith community’s sponsoring of a number of families from Syria. The project is called Better Together, though the name predates the present world conflict and was the name of a similar 6-week pulpit exchange the same churches did two years back before coming together as one body for a Good Friday service in which they gave around $50,000 for a Habitat for Humanity project. (The part we’re looking at today was a collaboration with Clarke Dixon, whose name is most familiar to readers here.)

Sponsoring families of a different faith background, different ethnicity, different linguistic set is extremely stretching for some people, especially people in a rather homogeneous small Canadian town. We tend to look after our own or are drawn to projects where, after a clear proclamation of the gospel, the prospects for conversion are high. Our learning curve as a community is very steep with this project, and will probably become steeper after the first family arrives.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, a former (and possibly future) church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

The situation we face with Syrian refugees is very similar to that of Jonah, a man called by God to engage people different than himself.

The situation also has some geographic coincidences: Nineveh was part of the Assyrian — even the name is a giveaway — empire; the Assyrians were brutal conquerors who destroyed and abused people. Nineveh is incorporated today in the city of Mosul where ISIS activity made headlines and from where many of the refugees originate.

Jonah 1:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean was not only in the opposite direction, the distance was five times the opposite direction.

Most readers here know the basics elements of what happens next. Jonah would love to see the Ninevites destroyed, even though he doesn’t particularly want to be the messenger; but after his rebellion leads to him being tossed overboard by the Tarshish freighter, he has a three-day time-out to reconsider his position.

Jonah 2:9a NLT But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.

The overall arc of the story show that Jonah goes and preaches his message while seriously hoping against hope that the Ninevites don’t respond. (This would be like a modern evangelist going to preach in Las Vegas and preparing to give an altar call at the end, but not really expecting anyone to raise a hand or go forward at the end for prayer.) His goal seems to be about himself, about being able to do his ‘prophet thing’ and then, when the city is destroyed, be able to say, ‘See, I told you so.’

It would seem that although Jonah had obeyed is heart was still bent on their destruction.

This raises a serious application point for those of us whose lives have some type of ministry component; those of us who give the money, offer the time, use our gifts, and are busy about church business:

You can be obedient in your action, but your heart is not all in.

Ultimately, Jonah is more concerned with his reputation and personal comfort than the well-being of Nineveh’s 120,000 population.

4:10a Then the Lord said, … 11 “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

(So does the idea of refugees in our community — especially in small-town America and Canada make us uncomfortable? I’m sure some would answer yes.)

We learn several things about God in this story, not the least of which is: God wants everybody to come to him and he called you and me to reach them. He is looking for people who are all in.

2 Peter 3:9 NIV The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this? Tomorrow we’ll look at scripture teaching on first fruits, middle fruits and margins.


We’ve covered Jonah here a couple of times before including twice recently; here are some older ones:

 

 

 

 

September 6, 2015

The Value of a Soul

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
 Matthew 16:26 NLT

When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, one if his guiding principles was “lost people matter to God.” Many of the early ‘pioneers’ of Christianity in North America and Western Europe were consumed by this principle, but often today it is rare to run into people who have such passion.

Henry is a man who would feel absolutely naked if he left the house without a couple of gospel presentation booklets in his shirt pocket. He is driven by the possibility of making contact with people each and every day to share his faith, and I believe that because he is prepared, the opportunities happen.

At the website Go To The Bible, there is a long exposition of today’s key verse. This is just the first point:

The Soul Is So Valuable Because of What Man Is and God’s Purpose for Man

When God had spoken the worlds into being, then when He had prepared this earth with all of its living creatures and swarming life in the seas and the birds that fly in the air and animals and creeping things that live upon the earth, He looked upon it all and saw it was good.

But God was not satisfied. God is love, and love wants an object like unto itself upon which it can bestow its affection. His great Father-heart was hungering for a family of children, so He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And the Scripture says, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The crowning work of all God’s matchless creation is a being from His own hand into whom He has breathed the breath of His own life and who has become a living soul in His image with a capacity to love like God and return the love of God, to respond to and receive that matchless love; with a capacity to think His thoughts, to live His life, to hold fellowship with Him, to walk in communion with Him, to live with Him.

We see God coming down in the cool of the day to walk with the man whom He has made. There is a blessed and holy and wonderful fellowship between the two.

The purpose God had in the creation of man was not only to have a being like unto Himself who could appreciate and respond to His love and upon whom He could lavish His affections and with whom He could have fellowship, but His further purpose was that this man should be the lord of creation and that one day he should reign with Him and share His glory throughout an endless eternity.

What a glorious purpose God had in the creation of man! In the face of that, many men will deliberately turn their backs upon such a destiny, deliberately defeat the purpose of God in their lives and choose to follow the Devil instead! They will be deceived by him and be dragged from that glorious purpose of God into endless night, separated from God. They will be defeated in their lives and rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to Him in every life.

That is why Jesus said, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He misses that infinite, loving, glorious purpose of God in his life and forfeits the opportunity to share with Him His glory through eternity.

What got me thinking about this today? I was reading about the eleven principles that guided missionary William Carey (1761-1834) in his life devoted to missions. You can read the list for yourself at the blog A Twisted Crown of Thorns.

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We need more people today who will have this same, all consuming passion for the lost.

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

July 13, 2014

Seeking the Person of Peace

Luke 9 and 10, along with Matthew 10, deal with the instructions Jesus gives to his disciples before sending them out in two-by-two ministry teams.  One of those instructions is that when they arrive in the town, they are to look for, depending on which translation you use, a “person of peace” or “man of peace” or “son of peace.”

The NIV reads,

If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.

If you read the extended Matthew Henry notes for verses 1-16, you get the very strong impression that the thrust of this passage is that, as they go on their way, the disciples are to search for fertile ground for their message.

This in itself is rather confusing, because we know that, in the parable of the sower, the seed is scattered widely and lands on soil not amenable to growth, soil vulnerable to the elements, and good soil. The disciples seem to be told to go to areas that are already receptive to their message.

As an aside: Have you ever wondered why it seems that so many churches are planted in certain areas creating a glut of houses of worship in those places, while there is dearth of churches in other parts of the country? I recently heard people joking about doing a church plant in Atlanta because, tongue-in-cheek, “Atlanta really needs more churches.”  It does beg the question as to why it appears there is so much activity in some parts of North America, while others seem to be in great need.

The other aspect of this story that should be piquing your curiosity concerns what Jesus sent these disciples out to do. We know that 20th century Evangelism methodology included sending people out two-by-two to knock on doors on residential areas. Further into the 1900s, this method got ‘trademarked’ by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to the point where Evangelicals simply stopped doing door-to-door ministry.

But their message was not Christ Jesus crucified, dead, buried for their sins and then risen again defeating death.  Jesus had not yet suffered and died. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. Their message was, at best, an echo of their rabbi, his twist on familiar ethics as per the Sermon on the Mount; a message of turning from sin, the message that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Still, their apostolic ministry serves as a model for us and the key to that model is that they were sent out in utter dependence upon God.

So while we’ve left some unanswered questions here, I want to move on to why I was focused on this passage today.  As I left for a morning worship gathering, part of my goal was that God would lead me for someone to interact with either before or after the service per se, and the phrase person of peace flashed into my mind, even though I was fully aware of this phrase’s use in an evangelism model.

In the process, I uncovered the following which appears on several different websites. If someone knows where it originates, I will give proper credit.

When it comes to sharing their faith, most people aren’t strategic. Jesus, however, was very strategic in how he modeled evangelism and sharing the Gospel. In fact, He gave us a template for sharing our faith – and yet most people don’t know what that template is.
What Jesus sends the disciples to do is look for the person of peace…and that method is a reproducible strategy. We see it in Luke 9 when Jesus sends out the 12. We see it in the book of Acts with Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lidia, Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch looking for these people who are people of peace.

6 Marks of a Person of Peace

And what we see in scripture is the person of peace is the one who welcomes you, who will receive who you are, who is open to you, open to what you have to say about Jesus, open to the life you live because of Jesus.

But they’re also someone who serves you. So often when we’re seeking to minister we want to do everything for somebody else, but the person of peace often wants to make a contribution in some way.

So, a person of peace will be one who

  • welcomes you
  • receives you
  • is open to you
  • will be open to what you have to say about Jesus
  • is open to the life you live because of Jesus
  • serves you

A person of peace could be a passing relationship. Sometimes a person of peace is a permanent relationship. But the real question is, “Who are your people of peace?”

Who are the people of peace who are open to you, who welcome you, who serve you, and then you will see that the Kingdom of God is nearby.

That’s a whole lot of things to think about today.  I look forward to your emails and blog comments. For more study review Matthew 10 and Luke 10.

December 12, 2011

Apologetics in Action

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I could write pages and pages about apologetics, but unless you have seen a skilled apologist in action, you don’t really know what it is.

First of all, apologetics is not evangelism, but it may be a thread that runs through evangelism. In the example below, Tony Miano shares with a student. In many ways, Tony is guiding and leading the conversation.

In apologetics, the other person is guiding or leading the conversation; it is the non-Christian that is asking the questions or making the challenge. There is no time for advance preparation in the sense of knowing ahead of time where the dialog is going, but there is perhaps a greater need for preparation of the broadest type. Ravi Zacharias takes questions from the widest mix of people — you can order his Q&A sessions online — and in this particular case, answers questions from Muslim university students.

The body of Christ needs people following both callings. But every Christian is called to always be ready to give an account for those who ask you concerning the hope within you. Or as the NLT has it

I Peter 3:15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. (NLT)

Today’s question: Where does your greater calling  lie, as an evangelist or an apologist?

December 9, 2011

Devotion or Discipline?

I’ve often said to acquaintances that I appreciate this particular opportunity because it forces me to spend a fixed amount of time either in God’s word, or in areas where others have been contemplating aspects of Christian doctrine or Christian living in the light of scripture.   But I no sooner use the word forces and I realize that word is laden with baggage.  It implies something that I must do, but will only do if forced because it is contrary to my will.

I also know that some people have issues with the approach of author Richard Foster in the book Celebration of Discipline.  They find the term discipline too formal, almost constricting.  These things  — prayer, Bible study, etc. — should be the product of delight not duty.  I love my wife, but I don’t have to set aside times to show this, I try to do this in many ways throughout the day.  (Emphasis on try if you happen to be reading this honey.) For many, an emphasis on the word discipline comes with a belief in performance based religion; we achieve standing before God on the basis of the things we do. They don’t want to embrace a faith that scores points on the basis of hours spent in Bible study or on one’s knees in prayer. They don’t want to feel compelled to do these things, but rather, to do them naturally, organically.

But didn’t Paul tell us that he knows what he wants to do is not always the same as what he does? While we want to spend more time with God, we often need structure to bring that desire into actual activity. While we may not be double minded in the sense that James defines it, we do live in two worlds.  We need to discipline ourselves so that our intentions are actually carried out.

If you’re new to this journey of Christ-following, you may wish a refresher on what the particular disciplines are that we’re referring to.   Donald Whitney reiterates these in his book Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life.  The blog Protheist lists them using the word priorities, which is softer than disciplines, as long as we understand we still need to make priorities.  Here’s the summary:

Spiritual Disciplines

1. Bible Intake

We should strive to read and study the Bible on a daily basis. This helps us to aim our thoughts, desires and lives toward God, thereby drawing closer to him (James 4:8) so that we can walk more fully in his will. During our times of Bible intake, we should seek to memorize, meditate on and apply God’s word. Perhaps this means we only get through one or two verses as a result; but in the end, it is not about the quantity, but rather the quality of your time in the word.

2. Prayer

As Christians, all prayer is heard and all prayer is answered, even though God may not always answer the way we want him to. While sometimes prayer helps us to align our will to God’s, it is also an event where we can thank (Col 4:2), confess (1 Jn 1:9), worship (Heb 12:28-29) and invite (Or beg) God to intervene in a crisis in our lives (Phi 4:6). Though the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, it also teaches that our prayers greatly affect the outcome of events (Luk 11:9-10; Jam 4:2). To get a response from God, we do not have to speak award winning prayers, but he does want us to come in reverence (Heb 5:7) and humility (2 Chr 7:14); expressing our needs, fears, desires and concerns with him.

3. Worship

The act of responding to and focusing on God is to be done by the power of the Spirit by the word of truth (Jhn 4:24). We are encouraged to do this in both private (Rom 12:1) and public (Col 3:16) settings, and is not limited to singing. But rather our lives are to be an act of worship to God as we seek to glorify him and his name in all we say and in all we do (1 Cor 10:31); whether that is through work, play, art, study or speech.

4. Evangelism

Even though we may not all have the spiritual gift of evangelism, we are all called to evangelize in both word and deed (Matt 28:18-20). While we may be afraid of the hearer’s rejection of the Gospel, we must be sure that we measure our success by the careful accurate delivery of the message (1 Cor 3:10), not the recipient’s response (1 Cor 3:6-7). For we are but a postal service that delivers important information, and must not see failure in their rejection of the message but in our refusal to deliver. If you know enough about the gospel to be a Christian, then you know enough to share it with others.

5. Serving

When God calls us, he does not call us to park our cars in idle, but to drive forward with a mission and purpose (Matt 28:18-20)! We are slaves to Christ, who has set us free from our slavery to sin (Rom 6:17-18, 22); and as servants of Jesus, we are workers, not sleepers (1 Cor 4:1). We do not work in an effort to earn our salvation, but we work because it has already been given to us. God has rescued us from the grip of Satan which we so grossly loved, and the depths of Hell which we so badly deserve. How do we repay him? We can’t (Rom 3:19; Gal 2:16). How do we respond? With our lives (Rom 12:1; Eph 4:1).

6. Stewardship

Your time cannot be regained. Each moment that passes is lost forever. While we may not care much now, every moment on earth will be far more valuable at the moment of our death. So as Christians, who have been rescued from our lives of sin, how are we to use our time, our money, our gifts, our talents, our possessions and our knowledge? By understanding that they all ultimately belong to God (Ps 24:1-2; 1 Cor 6:19-20), we give them back to God, the church, our family and our community (Col 3:23-24; Jas 1:27) out of the joy (Rom 14:17; 15:13; Gal 5:22) that God has granted us for the purpose of worshiping the Lord and raising up a generation of Christ followers.

7. Fasting

This is an expected (Matt 16:16) voluntary abstinence from food for private spiritual purposes and not for public declaration (Matt 6:18). We do it to strengthen our prayer lives (Ps 35:13), seek guidance (Acts 13:2), express mourning (Joel 2:12), request deliverance, express repentance, show humility, minister to others, display concern for the work of God, overcome temptation and most importantly, love and worship God. We do not do this as a form of self-inflicted punishment but as a method of communicating sincerity and hope that God will answer our request as we desire.

8. Silence and Solitude

There are many great purposes to getting away by ourselves on a regular basis. Some of these include, following Jesus’ example (Luk 16:12), hearing God’s voice better, worship God, seek restoration, get clear spiritual perspective, pursue God’s will and to help us control our tongue. We are far too addicted to the noise and the sound of our voice. Miniature getaways force us to temporarily mute both to connect with God on a deeper level.

9. Journaling

Do not do this if you are not concerned with spiritual growth; as it is a powerful tool that does just that. It helps us record progress in our Christian life, evaluate ourselves, meditate on matters, express thoughts, clarify insight and track the amazing things that God is always doing in our lives. As Francis Bacon once said, “If a man writes little, he must have a great memory.”

10. Learning

Just as Jesus grew in wisdom (Luk 2:52), so should we seek to do the same. We should be humble and teachable (Col 3:12-13), as we attempt to love God with our mind (Matt 22:37); while seeing our learning as a discipline to live out and not a hobby to play with. For if we are seeking to become more like Christ, we must know what Christ is like, which is why we should seek knowledge as we pursue Christ.

Closing

Of all the disciplines we hold ourselves to, the spiritual disciplines are priceless tools that we can use to greatly enhance our relationship with God. While some are expectations of us, others are simply time tested recommendations.

If you feel stuck in the moment, are not sure how to grow in your walk with Christ, of if you want to read a more thorough explanation of each topic, pick up Whitney’s book on Spiritual Disciplines…

We’ll give the last word on this to Bonhoeffer, via the blog Euangelion:

In his exposition of Jesus’ words in  Matthew 6:16-18 in Nachfolge (“Discipleship”), Bonhoeffer has this to say about the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines such as fasting:

Jesus takes for granted that disciples will keep the pious practice or exercise of fasting. The life of a disciple requires the strict practice of austerity. The only purpose of such practices is to make disciples more willing and more joyous in following the designated path and doing the works required of them. The selfish and lethargic will, which resists being of service, is disciplined; the flesh is chastened and punished. The practice of austerity makes me fell the estrangement of my Christian life from the world. A life which remains without any ascetic discipline, which indulges in all the desires of the flesh as long as they are “permitted” by the justitia civilis [civil order], will find it difficult to enter the service of Christ. Satiated flesh is unwilling to pray and is unfit for self-sacrificing service (158)

Click here for more on this … (more…)

September 12, 2011

What Does it Mean to “Invite Neighbors to Church?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:46 pm
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Seth McBee blogs at McBee’s Musings:

I was on twitter yesterday, when one of my buddies tweeted that we should all be inviting our neighbors to our corporate church gatherings…some would simply say, “you should be inviting your neighbors to church.” I found that pretty interesting.  I started to think…really? After asking for clarification on this, I am not sure I heard what he was saying…but it still convinced me that I needed to write something about this subject.  

Now, back in the day, I would totally agree that I should inviting anyone and everyone to church, but as I have grown in my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, I can’t agree that my purpose in my neighborhood is to get my neighbors to a church gathering.   I am going to show through a few posts:

What is Church?
What is the secular vs sacred?
What Happens at a Church Gathering on Sunday?
Why Would My Neighbors/Friends Want to Go to That?

What is Church?

If you ask most people what church is, most would say it is the thing that you have to wake up early for on a Sunday and then go to.  Church is a thing you go to.  Most people might ask, “Do you go to church?” Church has become a 2 to 3 hour event one attends to make amends with God.   People have many views on how this Sunday should go down, some call it mass, some call it a service and how one goes about those two hours have separated people for centuries.  But, is this really what church is? Is it an event on a Sunday?

What is interesting is that how we “do church” today isn’t actually something we find in the Scriptures.   The term church actually is a gathering of a people.   The church is one that is a people, not an event.  It is a people, not a building.  You don’t go to the church, if you are a follower of Jesus, you, along with others you gather with, are the church.   

So, instead of thinking of a Sunday as “church”, the bible actually speaks of something quite differently.  It would include what happens on Sunday as church, but it would include many other things as “church” as well.  When followers of Jesus gather, they are the church, no matter when they do it, or where they do it at.  So, I am not merely dismissing 2000  years of church history here, but we do need a far wider definition of what it is, or better said, WHO we are.

We have taken this idea of church that Jesus speaks about and have turned it into an institution, which was never meant to be.  And, when you turn it into an institution, it is very easy to hate it, it is easy to stop its movement, it is very easy to misunderstand it and it is very easy to abuse it.  

Jesus has told us many things about his church:

1. The very gates of Hades couldn’t stop it (Matthew 16:18)
2. It would be built on the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done (Matthew 16:13-20)
3. The church, the ones who follow Jesus, would be marked by their love for each other and others (1 John 4:7-21).  

When the church becomes more about an institution and the mere men who run it, none of the above will be true.  It has to be about something more.  If it’s about an institution, the only goal is to make that institution bigger and better and more rich.  What have we seen in the history of the church as an institution? It looks more like a nation trying to force people in through forced conversions (look at the crusades) , it’s run like a business that needs money to run and we try to get people to come to our church because ours is better than the other guys (think recruiting like a headhunter) and we draw lines in the sand and become all about advertising for the sake of our church instead of those other guys.   It really does become a sleazeball paradigm.

This can’t be what Jesus was trying to start when he came.  Especially since you never see Jesus starting a church like a business or institution.   But, he did start a movement of people on a mission sent out by him to show others what he is like.

This is what church is.  We will gather on Sundays, or other days, to celebrate who God is and what he has done.  But, we can’t think that is where our time as the church stops.  We are always the church.   We are always about “our Father’s business” showing people who he is and what he is like, not who we are and what we are like.  This is actually pretty freeing for both me and my neighbor.  I know I am not trying to recruit like a used car salesman and he doesn’t have to be afraid to be my friend waiting for the sales pitch.

The church’s job is simply this: show others what God is like through our actions and our words, and we are to be marked by the love for God and others more than ourselves.  

This is not marked by me doing these things to try and get others to think like me, to get others to go to a building on a Sunday, to get others to be a “Christian.”  NO!  We are to merely show and speak what God is like because we truly love God who loves others.  If you are only showing others what God is like because you want something from them (i.e. get them to “church”, get them baptized, get them like you) that isn’t true love, that is a coercive love, a manipulative love.   I never want my neighbors or friends to think the reason I am nice to them, the reason I throw BBQs, neighborhood breakfasts, 4th of July parties, etc. is to get them to be like me or to get something from them.  How disgusting is that?  Actually, one of the first times one of my neighbors came to a neighborhood breakfast he asked his wife:

Why are they doing this?  Are they trying to sell us something? Are they Avon salesmen?

Pretty funny, yet pretty sad.  Not the neighbors thinking, but the fact that people aren’t nice and loving just for the sake of being nice and loving.

The reason I do all these things is simply because Jesus has been so good to me and he asks for me to show that to others.  God first loved me, so now I can love both God and neighbor.

The real question we should be asking as the church, as followers of Jesus is this:

If I knew my neighbor would never think Jesus is Lord and Saviour, would I continue to pursue them and love them like I love myself?

If the answer is no, or not sure…you are doing these nice things for yourself, not for the sake of God’s glory.   Again, I would love any neighbor/friend that is reading this or that is living life with me to follow Jesus, but that isn’t my end goal.  My end goal is to simply love them, as the church sent out to them, as God loved me.   As my friend will they see and hear the good news of Jesus…yes.  Will it be rammed down their throat like a cold caller for new high speed internet? Not a chance.  

The church is not supposed to be an institution or something you go to.  The church is supposed to, and has always been supposed to, be about being a people of God showing others what God is like through our actions and our words.  Sadly, we are human, and we have failed.  Sadly, I will fail today showing this to my neighbor.  But, again, it’s not about me, it’s about God.  I am a hypocrite.  I am a failure.  But, the good news is that God isn’t a hypocrite.  God isn’t a failure.  He will continue to pursue me, he will continue to forgive me, he will continue to love me, even as I fail in this life…over…and over…and over.  

Let’s not make church about Sunday alone.  Let’s make it about Jesus alone.

~Seth McBee

Click here for part two

August 1, 2010

How To Do Apologetics (By Someone Who Does it Well)

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:45 pm
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Ravi Zacharias was recently asked on a radio show what makes a good apologist (defender of the Christian faith.)

He said, “Let me answer the question backwards;” and continued

  • a bad apologist deals with the question
  • a good apologist deals with the questioner

We can get so locked into ‘winning points’ in a discussion that we lose sight of the person asking the questions.   Jesus looked past the questions — some that we would consider superficial and others we would be less likely to dismiss — and dealt with the heart of the person.

How can I remember to do that the next time I’m in a seemingly ‘confrontation’ faith discussion?

April 18, 2010

Seeds, Roots, Branches, Fruit

A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, is now pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada.  I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I bargained for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church.   The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events.

Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

Many people are at different places on their spiritual journey and the design of our ministry is to meet your spiritual needs where you are and help you along on your Christian path. We believe God wants us to be consistent in our growth and maturity as Christians.

Our plan is similar to many good churches, and is taken directly from the journey Jesus invites us to in the Bible. These are the milestones of our Christian Journey that Highland Park endeavors to help us through as we hear Christ inviting us to: